Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Perfection of Solitude. Hermits and Monks in the Crusader States

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Perfection of Solitude. Hermits and Monks in the Crusader States

Article excerpt

The Perfection of Solitude. Hermits and Monks in the Crusader States. By Andrew Jotischky. (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press. 1995. Pp. xviii, 198. $35.00.)

Despite the problems caused by the large gaps in the documentation, the uneven progress of archaeology, and the mythologies developed both then and since, the many facets of the unique society created by the Latins in Syria and Palestine in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries continue to attract historians. Although Peter the Venerable warned that it is better to serve God in perpetual humility and poverty, than to complete the journey to Jerusalem in pride and luxury, it is clear that many twelfth-century Western Christians were so seduced by the prospect of living as a monk or a hermit in or near the holy places of the East that they were prepared to take the risk. Evidence is not abundant, but Andrew Jotischky has established a solid base for his study in the writings of Gerard of Nazareth, Bishop of Latakia between ca. 1140 and ca. 1161 (the subject of a fine reconstruction by Benjamin Kedar in 1983), and in his own research into the historical truth behind the Carmelite traditions. At the same time he has taken care to place these men in the context of both western monastic developments of the twelfth century and the long-established Greek and eastern Christian communities which had been part of the Syrian scene since the time of the desert fathers. The result is that crusade historians now have a convincing picture of the monks and hermits of the East which complements Bernard Hamilton's study of the secular church.

Gerard of Nazareth's cast of characters is especially fascinating, ranging from Bernard of Blois, who was afraid neither to inveigh against the immoralities of King Baldwin II nor to preach the Christian message before Balak, ruler of Aleppo, to Alberic, who looked after the lepers in Jerusalem, eating their leftover food, kissing them after Mass, washing their feet, making their beds, and carrying them on his shoulders. …

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